PHILOMATH - The popular Warrior mascot at Philomath High School could be on its way out.
The Oregon Board of Education voted 5-1 on Thursday to ban the use of all American Indian mascots and logos at all K-12 schools as of July 2017. Failure to comply with the ban could result in schools losing their state funding.
At least 15 high schools throughout the state are affected by the board’s decision because they use American Indian names.
And while Philomath High School can continue to use the Warriors name because “Warrior” doesn’t specifically carry an American Indian connotation, it has to remove any Native American images or logos. The school has used the Warriors as its mascot since 1942.
The school’s logo features an Indian wearing a headdress and for years there was carved Native Indian statue located near the front entrance of the building.
Philomath High School hasn’t had a physical mascot for at least 10 years.
“It’s not surprising,” said Philomath Schools Superintendent Dan Forbess on Thursday afternoon. “That appeared to be the direction they were leaning.”
Forbess said the bigger issue for the district is Philomath Middle School. Its mascot is the Braves, one of three American Indian names that has been completely banned, along the Chiefs and the Indians.
“I know the Braves are on the school’s reader board,” Forbess said. “But I am not sure if it’s used much elsewhere. Either way, under the ban, we’d have to look at changing the school’s mascot.”
Schools are required to notify the Oregon Department of Education by Jan. 1 if they use one of the three banned mascot names and phase it out by July 1, 2017.
Forbess said the Philomath School Board is scheduled to vote on adopting a resolution addressing the state’s ban at its Monday meeting. He said the resolution is similar to the one previously adopted last month by the Lebanon School Board.
Lebanon’s resolution calls the high school’s Warrior logo a positive symbol that reflects community pride, opposes the proposed ban as “unfair, unsupported and costly,” and says Lebanon believes the state board is exceeding its delegated authority by deeming all such symbols to be inherently discriminatory.
Forbess said the Philomath School District supports Lebanon’s stance on the issue.
“We feel the same way,” Forbess said. “It’s a question of whether the board has the authority to define what discrimination is.”
Forbess said that he hopes that during the next legislative session that amendments could be made to the ban. If not, he said the district will likely form a committee to discuss and decide what changes would need to be made at Philomath high and middle schools.
Forbess said he wishes that state board of education would have taken a similar approach that was taken in Wisconsin, where he said state officials have left mascot decisions up to local districts and communities.
He also said he would’ve liked to see more input from local American Indian tribal leaders on the issue.
Forbess said he doesn’t expect there to be any discussion about dropping the Warriors name all together.
“I didn’t hear from any school board members or community members that they were in support of dropping the Warriors name,” he said. “Many of them thought it was a positive way to honor the local Native American people.”
The Oregon Board of Education research committee studied only Indian mascots and did not include such mascots as Irish, Celts, Spartans or Vikings in its ban recommendation.
Chairwoman Brenda Frank, a member of the Klamath tribe, voted for theIndian mascot ban. Joining her were Vice Chairman Artemio Paz, Duncan Wyse, Samuel Henry and Serilda Summers-McGee. Second Vice Chairwoman Leslie Shepherd, a Central Linn graduate, voted no.
The board heard more than eight hours of public testimony and received more than 700 written comments, almost evenly split for and against.
Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, had proposed a waiver clause to allow school districts to use Indian mascots under agreements with local tribes. The committee rejected the idea.
Wyse said he struggled with his decision, particularly after hearing from American Indian students who felt honored to be represented by school mascots. He said he does not believe the communities involved are trying to be discriminatory.
Paz said he agrees with research that indicates Indian mascots are tantamount to institutionalized racism and give tacit approval for stereotyping and bullying.
“It leads to racist comments and negative messages for many of those people in the Native American population,” he said. “Why we should search for acceptable levels does not resonate.”
Raju Woodward can be contacted at 758-9526 or email@example.com
Democrat-Herald reporter Jennifer Moody contributed to this story.